One day some ambitious writer will do an exhaustive study of the motivating factors behind an artist’s decision to record the “double album.” Yet anyone trying to sum up the efforts of years worth of talented musicians releasing 30-plus tracks in the same window of time would be hard pressed to come up with something different than a final assessment of “Don’t do it”. Any act, veteran or aspiring, is most likely doing themselves a disservice in attempting to capture lightning in a bottle and make their own White Album. Even the Use Your Illusion albums suffered from moments of skippable filler. And on the Hip Hop side most attempts at the double LP fall miles short of another Wu-Tang Forever.
The latest hip hop artist to go for the simultaneous release of two albums worth of material is Layzie Bone of veteran Cleveland group Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. This new material from Layzie Bone – with several Bone Thugs members guesting – is 32 tracks spread across two albums entitled The Meaning and The Definition respectively. Outside of a group dynamic that was all about interplay and with double the tracks that most artists add to their discography at one time, The Meaning/Definition occupies both a place of “been there done that” monotony and sonic overkill.
Over the course of both albums, Layzie’s distinctive bob-and-weave flow is time and time again swallowed by frenetic everything-but-the-kitchen-sink production that makes The Runners sound restrained. Many of these beats are what hold Layzie back from landing anything close to a memorable one-two punch. Since the earliest group days, Layzie Bone’s flow has been astonishingly nimble and it’s a shame to hear his rhyme schemes now laid down atop a bed of thin Electro beats that call to mind those “Nights in Ibiza” mix CDs that popped up in budget bins throughout the ’90s.
However the songs’ overall lyrical content shouldn’t be given a free pass either as it features tracks that sport tired hooks like “The World’s My Hood,” “Gotta Get Money, More Money” and range from the painfully dated (“Every Night” featuring Bow Wow) to the downright laughable. (“Spend The Night” featuring Baby Bash is probably the first track to ever contain the trifecta of a “third leg” reference, a threat to make a former flame “Eat Doo Doo” and the stale, nearly two decade old put down of “Homey Don’t Play That”)
Yet the The Meaning and The Definition still have their moments. The tracks that are most successful are the ones with beats that stop desperately swinging for the “modern” fences and embrace throwback influences of everything from Zapp, Kraftwerk, the World Clas Wreckin’ Cru and the Swishahouse heyday. The Definition’s title track sports production that lets Layzie’s flow glide like it did with Bone Thugs rather than force it to bend into awkward positions like so many of the new albums’ other tracks. And on the second half of The Meaning, everything stops feeling so sterile and finally gets some room to breathe on joints like “Everybody” featuring Ya Boy. Then Too Short pops up on the second 16 bars of “She Bad” and Layzie receives the foil his skills deserve and equilibrium is restored.
The big letdown that is The Meaning and The Definition isn’t due to an artist who can’t prove he’s talented but rather an artist who deserves better; a higher quality product that lasts half as long.